The following is a letter to the editor submission: By Tim Kosnoff, child sex-abuse attorney
Contact: 425-830-8201; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: http://www.kosnoff.com/
I read with interest in Wednesday’s news that Montana’s Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office investigated “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson and brokered a $1million deal to settle claims that Mortenson fabricated information in his book and mismanaged his charity, Central Asia Institute. (Associated Press story, April 18, 2012.)
Sure, it’s important to watch out for Montana citizens who may have paid money to this group. But frankly, Bullock should investigate a matter that more urgently affects the health and safety of Montana citizens than money going for charitable work in Afghanistan.
I and my co-counsel represent nearly 200 survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Montana. We represent 179 men and women suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena and 16 men and women suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls. These are adult survivors, who as children were raped, sodomized and physically abused by Catholic clergy or their employees over several decades. We continue to investigate claims, as more survivors come forward.
In Helena, Father Carol Bullman from Risen Christ Parish in Kalispell, is facing criminal charges after a police search turned up sexually explicit images on his computer of boys ages 12-18.
In the Great Falls case, one of our clients, a former altar boy, was raped by Father Ted Szudera for two years. The Great Falls diocese conducted its own self-styled investigation, dismissed the allegations as unfounded and allowed Szudera to continue serving as a priest around children. Following the allegations, Szudera served on a bishop’s committee advising the diocese on how to handle clergy sex-abuse claims.
The Great Falls diocese also used an off-duty police officer from the Great Falls Police Department working as private investigator to “investigate” cases for the diocese. Instead of launching a criminal investigation into child rape allegations at Catholic churches, this police officer has been working for the employer of the alleged rapists. The diocese has acknowledged as many as 10 cases where off-duty police have “investigated” for them. It’s a practice we believe is highly improper and represents a failure to protect the public.
Bullock has publicly bristled at the suggestion that his office should be involved and has complained bitterly that he’s being unfairly targeted. This, during a highly charged political season. What could be more important than the safety of Montana children when his office has the power to investigate?
The fact is, Catholic bishops and other church officials cannot be trusted to police themselves. We know this because in the past decade there have been thousands of settlements and verdicts around the country related to clergy sex abuse, as well as an explosion of revelations in Ireland, across Europe and the globe.
We have vast evidence that supports patterns and practices of rampant child sexual abuse over many decades right here in Bullock’s back yard.
Catholic church officials have acted as their own “gate-keepers.” “Reforms” in this context are illusory because, in the end, all the power resides with the bishop. The bishop decides whether to disclose a complaint. And, as you’ve seen in Great Falls and Helena, these dioceses have decided for themselves that these allegations of criminal conduct aren’t credible.
We should forget about our outrage over the church's gross breach of trust, and instead think logically about the system and the rules under which it operates. Catholic bishops are only acting consistent with the rules of the system and organizational culture which they inhabit – and those rules place the interests of the church and its priests over the rules of secular society regarding the protection of children. It is not a problem of "bad bishops." It is not the bishops that have failed; it is the failure of secular officials to enforce its rules equally. And that means local prosecutors and Montana’s state attorney general need to take action and rid themselves of the easy “peace” they have with the dioceses.
What would it take for Bullock’s office to take action?